There is a lot to take away from ESPN's flurry of 2012 Upfront announcements. There are some other things we may touch on in the weeks to come, but what stood out most was the overwhelming evidence that the sometimes volatile marriage between Bill Simmons and ESPN is as healthy and productive as ever.
The two major headlines dominating the sports media chatter around the event both tie back to to Simmons with 30 for 30 returning with a vengeance and the continued expansion of Grantland. Even more impressive is the two Simmons creations (with an assist to Connor Schell) now cross pollinating each other. The success of his two babies working together and pioneering through a stodgy obstacle course of red tape is probably a joy that only Richard Williams can relate to in seeing the early success of Serena and Venus. From Richard Sandomir's writeup:
"As the films roll out, they will be augmented on Grantland by podcasts, feature stories and oral histories. A short digital film — which will be unrelated to the longer ones — will make its debut each month on Grantland."
Although I'm not a flag waving enthusiast of the growing Grantland empire, the additional content outlined above will certainly increase my frequency of visiting the site. Whenever I watch something I really enjoy, I usually spend a good chunk of time digging deeper for more info about the subject matter. Whether that is Wikipedia, Youtube, IMDB, or whatever, there is a thirst to get a more comprehensive viewpoint of what was condensed down into a more commercially viable piece of media. The augmenting of 30 for 30 coverage on Grantland will allow ESPN to meet that demand of curious follow up interest.
The power of Grantland's unique place in the content world can be simply illustrated in doing a Google search for "Friday Night Lights." Given there is a Pulitzer winning book, a successful movie, and the cult classic television series all with the same name, seeing Grantland's Oral History 4th in the search results is an indication of just how well read and socially shared Grantland can be. It's a great article if you're a fan of the show and you really wouldn't find it anywhere else.
Would ESPN.com devote an entire article touting an NBC/DTV show? Nope. Where would this go on NBC Sports and would it reach as many people? If an independent media site tried to get access to all of the people quoted in that article, would they be successful? No freaking way.
Similar to Simmons, Grantland isn't for everyone. That said, it has carved out a sizable audience that is unique in this fact - content that would struggle elsewhere thrives on Grantland.